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Moves twards criminalization in Europe

in WORLD, 07/08/2013

Maria Sjödin & Martin K.I. Christensen are European Representatives to the ILGA World Board

While the general trend around legal and policy developments in Europe continues to point towards greater recognition of LGBTI people, there have been some negative developments in in the last year that require attention. For the first time in decades homophobic legislation has been enacted by or tabled in a number of parliaments.

Northern Cyprus is the only place in Europe which still criminalises same-sex sexual relationship between consenting adults, but in April 2013 the government put forward a proposal to parliament to legalise homosexuality by amending the Criminal Code.

Russia and the regional and federal anti-propaganda laws.

In March 2012, the Governor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, signed the law prohibiting the so-called ‘propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgenderism and paedophilia to minors’ (the ‘Anti-Propaganda Law’). The law defines propaganda as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally accessible information, which can damage the health, moral and spiritual development of the under aged." The legislation does not define the terms ‘bisexualism’ or ‘transgenderism’ leaving room for different interpretations. Any public mention of homosexuality may be considered as an administrative offense.
Also in March 2012, the initiative of a federal ban of ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ to the Duma. The voting in the first reading took place in January 2013 and the second reading is scheduled for later in the summer.

By the end of 2012, six other regions had enacted legislative provisions similar to the law adopted in St. Petersburg, namely Kostroma, Novosibirsk, Samara, Bashkortostan, Magadan, and Krasnodar. This means that following the developments of this year, the number of Russian regions with homophobic laws reached nine in total.

Also, the Moscow City Duma passed a law banning “all forms of sexual propaganda to minors”. The provisions adopted by the different regions are on the whole similar, some only refer to homosexuality while others also mention “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism”. Some regional laws also provide for higher levels of fines up to 500,000 rubbles (approx. €12,500). Most of the regional laws follow the same model, with the exception of Bashkortostan where no fine is imposed on people considered as offenders under the new law.

The laws have since been used to ban prides in St. Petersburg and several other places in Russia.

Ukraine and the proposed law against promotion of homosexuality

The Draft Law 8711 prohibiting the so-called ‘promotion of homosexuality’ that was introduced to the parliament 2012 would criminalise any positive depiction of same-sex relations in public if adopted.

In May 2012, the Committee of Freedom of Speech and Information had recommended the adoption of the bill. The initial voting for the Bill scheduled for July was postponed and in October the Ukrainian parliament voted with an overwhelming majority to support the Bill.

The second hearing of the Bill has been postponed for a later date due to the elections in the parliament at the end of the year. Various human rights organisations, official representatives of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the UN and the OSCE, the Ukrainian Ombudsperson and the official representative of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry as well as several politicians and public figures have condemned the bill.

If passed in the second hearing and signed by the President, the Bill will amend existing laws on ‘the protection of morals’, media and publishing, as well as the Criminal Code making any public mentioning of homosexuality a criminal offense. This would effectively limit the freedom of speech of mass media and criminalise LGBT human rights work in Ukraine.

In reaction to the adoption of the Bill 8711 prohibiting ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in its first reading, the European Commission has stated that Ukraine’s proposed anti-gay law would jeopardise prospects of visa liberalisation with the European Union. On behalf of the Commission, Štefan Füle, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, stated that “such legislative initiative stands in contradiction to the requirements of the relevant benchmarks of the [EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalisation] Action Plan”.

Hungary’s new definition of family

In January 2013, a new Constitution entered into force. It does not specifically list sexual orientation as a ground in the prohibition of discrimination clause, and thus sexual orientation and gender identity are only implicitly covered under ‘other status’.

The new constitution also restricts the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Additionally, the new Family Protection Act also came into force that defines the family unit as heterosexual and states that preparing for family life should be part of the school curriculum.
 

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